Life Enrichment
Local eco-advocate Laura Turner Seydel talks to Best Self

Local eco-advocate Laura Turner Seydel talks to Best Self

By Jeyme Colodne

While appearing on 11Alive’s TV program, “The Chat Room,” with Shaunya Chavis and Kimberley Kennedy in 2011, Laura Turner Seydel was asked how her father (CNN founder Ted Turner) influenced her path toward becoming an eco-expert. “He definitely was my inspiration; he’s always been a leader by example,” she said. “When we were young, he got us (kids) out on the street where we lived, picking up litter, plastic bottles and cans and we’d take them down to the country store where there was a bottle deposit and we made a little change. We learned the value of working and recycling at an early age.”

It’s those values that Turner Seydel still carries with her today and aims to impart not only to her own family, but to the public as well. Turner Seydel says that becoming a national environmental advocate and eco-living expert was a natural progression that resulted from her upbringing. She was raised by parents and grandparents who grew up during the Great Depression, and as a result, didn’t waste anything.

“Food residuals went in the compost pile. If you were cold, you put on a sweater instead of turning up the heat. My father drove a Japanese car that got 40 miles to the gallon at a time when it was patriotic to conserve,” she explains. “These actions were good for the environment and helped save money.  Being raised this way had a big impact on my siblings and myself, which you can see playing out in our lives to this day.”
Turner Seydel decided at an early age that her passion for environmental issues was more than just a passing phase. Her first job after college was with Greenpeace International in England, where she was part of the first group to address issues in the whaling industry and tried to prevent the killing of baby Harp seals for their hides.  

After returning from her work with Greenpeace, she joined the board of the Georgia Conservancy. This organization addresses environmental conservation issues that affect the state. “It was through this organization that I met the future leader of the Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, Sally Bethea, who was the water resource expert for the Georgia Conservancy at that time and came to us with the Conservancy’s blessing,” she said. “It was through the Conservancy that I met one of my mentors, Carolyn Hatcher, the president of the organization. She was influential in my life and took me under her wing. Ironically, she was also my husband’s (Rutherford Seydel) high school biology teacher.”

In 1994, she and her husband co-founded the Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, which works to protect Atlanta’s drinking water supply. Ever the passionate environmental advocates, they brought a lawsuit against the city of Atlanta in 1995 “for failing to control the discharge of raw sewage and other pollutants into the Chattahoochee River,” she says. “The Riverkeeper won the lawsuit, which resulted in more than $4 billion worth of infrastructure improvements and helped achieve a 97 percent decrease in the volume of sewage spills into the river between 2004 and 2010.”

Today, Turner Seydel continues to devote countless hours to the causes for which she feels most passionate. She serves as chairperson of the Captain Planet Foundation, which promotes environmental education and builds gardens in schools, and Zero Waste Zone, an organization that promotes communities working together to change current disposal methods of consumed products. She is also a wife and mother, and takes these roles most seriously of all. “I believe we have a moral mandate to act as good stewards of the natural systems that will support our children’s lives and all future generations,” she says. “Anything less would be stealing from their futures, including their health and quality of life.”

A cleaner environment is something that she hopes to create for her children and future generations to come. In her everyday life, she practices what she preaches starting with her home, aptly named EcoManor. This gorgeous home is the first LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold Certified residence in the Southeast. She explains that she and her husband wanted to construct a house to serve as a model for LEED certified homes. When the house was completed it drew a lot of attention from the media, so they decided to give tours and host events there to help further educate the public about sustainable living. EcoManor even has its own website (www.ecomanor.com) that offers a wealth of information on how to make a home more energy efficient.

In February of this year, she addressed Ghana Planeteers in Accra, Ghana. A non-profit organization, Ghana Planeteers support hands-on environmental projects for youth. She thanked the volunteers for all their hard work and dedication in cleaning up their environment and for setting an example for future generations. “It’s important for kids to have role models,” she said. Whether intentional or not, Turner Seydel has become one of those role models herself. “We have spent years educating people about the little things they can do to reduce their consumption of energy, water and other resources; however, it is now time to pull out all the stops,” she says. “Our environment affects the wellbeing of every man, woman and child, and it is our moral responsibility to protect it.”

More from Laura Turner Seydel

How did your childhood affect the way you feel about the environment today?
I was raised in a family where media was important and my dad has strong values about what people watched on television. He believed what they watch was a very powerful tool that could both educate and motivate them. This is why he was compelled to launch CNN.

Growing up, my siblings and I would watch the documentaries that were sent to my father for consideration to put on air. We were privy to cutting edge information about what was going on in developing countries around the world. We were aware of the “train wreck” issues that affected these nations. This inspired my dad to create ways to “edu-tain” kids all over the world through the Captain Planet and the Planeteers series. It has aired in more than 100 countries in 23 languages, reaching millions of children.

What does living green 
mean to you?
Everyone can lead by example. Start with simple things in your home, like saving energy, conserving water and recycling. Get involved in your school and community on environmental projects. Start a garden to help our pollinators who are in trouble. Volunteer to be the recycling coordinator at your workplace. Ask companies you work with or support about their sustainability plans.

What are the issues you are most passionate about?
I am passionate about creating zero waste zones in our homes, schools, offices and places of worship. Waste in our landfills negatively impacts our land, air, water and even our physical bodies.

What does a typical day/schedule look like for you?
I always start my day with a healthy, nutritious breakfast with my freshly-squeezed green juice*, and I exercise. My mantra is “early to bed, early to rise, work like heck and exercise.” I then catch up on news from around the world on CNN. From there, my day gets a bit more hectic. I am meeting with organizations I am involved with, such as Captain Planet Foundation, speaking on environmental or children’s health issues, blogging or writing articles and sending out information through my social media channels. I also like to balance this with quality family time with my wonderful husband and three children.

You have traveled all over the world. Is there any one country that stands out to you?
When I visited the Arctic two years ago, we saw 13 polar bears in their natural habitat. The weather at the poles is on average nine degrees higher than it used to be. The climate is definitely warmer and is posing danger for the species that live there, especially the polar bears, as well as the planet. The fallout from carbon emissions is definitely wreaking havoc. Climate change in the Arctic is real and I’ve witnessed it myself. It is truly unlike any place I have ever been and made me even more committed to protecting our beautiful natural resources and endangered wildlife.

I recently spent time in Accra, Ghana with the Ghana Planeteers, an organization of  young career professionals from all fields who meet weekly to organize events and campaigns to protect the environment in their communities. These young professionals have grown from a group of 50 to more than 215 in the past year alone. Throughout the world, there are more than 500,000 Captain Planet Planeteers who meet up on Facebook to converse with each other and develop new ideas for protecting our planet.

What advice would you give to parents trying to get their children to be more environmentally responsible?
Lead by example, showing your children that it is important to conserve our natural resources and be good stewards of the environment. It is important that we leave enough natural resources to other people and future generations. We need to manage our resources more sustainably. Teach your kids to pick up litter, recycle, use reusable water bottles, always turn off lights and electronics when they are not in use, and turn the water off when they brush their teeth. Reduce or eliminate toxic chemicals in your home and landscape. Instill a work and conservation ethic in your children that they can carry with them for the rest of their lives.

What inspires you every day?
I stay motivated knowing that we have dedicated people working everyday in the trenches advancing the effort to protect our life support systems. At the end of the day, we want to be able to look our kids in the eyes and tell them that we did everything we could to make this a better planet for them and future generations.

Do you have any new projects/events coming up this year that you can tell us about?
I have many things coming up – the 10th Annual Captain Planet Foundation Earth Day Kids Fest on April 14 and the Captain Planet Foundation Benefit Gala on December 7.

*For Laura’s Green-tini recipe and for more “green” advice, visit her website www.lauraseydel.com

 


 

Laura’s Top 10 
Eco-Health Tips

Remember, don’t keep these tips to yourself. Share them with your family and friends so they can benefit others.

  1. Eliminate one-use throwaway items. This is one of my biggest pet peeves. I’ve heard that in the U.S. we use 500 million straws a day. Think of all of those in our landfills! Choose reusable bottles and bags, and skip the straw.
  2. If you are a soccer mom like I am, you probably see plastic water bottles overflowing the trashcans every time you visit the playing fields. When you see leftover bottles at the field, take them and recycle them at home. To reduce your plastic consumption, consider purchasing a filtered water pitcher to keep in your fridge and use it to fill reusable bottles.
  3. We have got to do something about all of the plastic bags in our landfills or blowing around on the streets where you live. Whenever you head to the grocery store, bring your own reusable bags. I keep them inside my car so I’m never without them. And if you don’t need a bag for your purchases, just say so. Some stores will even give you a discount.
  4. Make your own cleaning products out of vinegar, lemon juice or baking soda for pennies on the dollar. Think about it – you don’t want to spray toxic chemicals on the surfaces from which you eat. These natural cleaners will reduce pollution in the air we breathe and help reduce the amount of chemicals that get into our water.
  5. Purchase safer cosmetics. Did you know your favorite lipstick may contain lead? In fact, many of the products we use on our skin, hair and nails contain dangerous chemicals. I use Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database to check the toxicity levels before I buy a product. 
  6. Choose no- or low-VOC paints when painting a room. This is especially important if you are painting a nursery or child’s room because many paints contain dangerous chemicals that get into the air we breathe.
  7. Start composting! It is actually very simple. Take food residuals after a meal, mix them with grass and leaves and store in a bin outdoors. Make sure your compost pile gets adequate water and air and turn it regularly. In about 60 to 90 days, you will have chemical-free soil for your garden.
  8. Speaking of gardens, consider starting your own organic garden. I love working on my garden with my family and it is nice to know that our fruits and vegetables do not contain dangerous pesticides. When you skip the pesticides in your yard, you are protecting your pets as well!
  9. Aim to have a zero-waste zone at home and work. Recycle as many things as you can and put food scraps in your compost pile. Think of all the waste you’ll keep from going to the landfill!
  10. Switch to LED lights. These lights may cost more initially, but they are actually 90 percent more energy efficient than traditional light bulbs and can last for years.